Guy’s insecurities

This cap from series 1, Episode 6 (“The Taxman Cometh”) was provided courtesy of The Armitage Army,[site now defunct, 7/26/15], for whose activities I am thankful everyday. As a historian I am a much better interpreter of the past than a ferreter-out of obscure materials, though some of the posts I want to write are going to require me making my own caps. Mr. Armitage has an acting style that frankly rewards screencappers. Taking the time to move a few frames and cap again can reveal an entirely different expression. I’ve learned a good deal more about his characterizations, too, from watching some of his key scenes in different roles in reverse, which reveals expressions on his face that the viewer in normal time can only experience subliminally. In particular, and I find this surprising even now, in Robin Hood Armitage performs a surprisingly broad repertoire of expressions that indicate various shadings of humiliation. The above is a cap where he is performing honor. But in the world of Robin Hood, he is also performing humiliation at the same time. Let me explain.

This cap comes right at the beginning of the episode, when Guy encounters the fake abbess of Rutford, who has collapsed at the entrance to Nottingham town. The scriptwriters made Guy the most medieval character in the piece, and this is one of the moments in the first few episodes when he is behaving in a recognizably medieval way. Specifically, he is recognizing both gender and status in acting so sympathetically to the abbess at this point, and in acting correctly, he underlines what he seems to see as his own status as part of the gentry: paternalist savior with a tinge of the chivalric about him that’s a bit premature for the late twelfth century. He seems to care that she’s been accosted by outlaws, and sends for a physician. When he reports this event to the sheriff, however, his position seems to change–the sheriff takes the stance that the clergy are parasitical, and Guy reverts to his earlier stance of smirking in the shadow of the sheriff and doing his bidding. In agreeing with the sheriff, he retreats from the obligations of his desired social status. In a yet later scene, he moves to a cynical manipulation of his responsibilities to a woman of such estate and suggests to Marian that she needs a husband because the shire is not safe for unprotected women–and cynically uses the abbess as an example: “There’s an abbess back in Nottingham half dead,” he says in a tone that can only be read as one of fake concern; continuing facetiously, “I have to attend to her.” Marian is horrified by this performance and attempts her own performance to the patriarchy in response, seeking a moratorium in the cloister to parry both Guy’s unwanted advances and her father’s fear that either her banditry or her political stances will jeopardize him. It turns out, of course, that the abbess is no abbess; that Guy is not capable of maintaining the ethical stance that would gain Marian’s admiration; and that Marian cannot elude the patriarchy either. She has to rely on her father’s acceptance, which he fortunately relents to offer her.

This action can be read as the product of status anxiety, with Guy taking baby steps toward trying to figure out how the person he wants to be–the man of lineage, status, and wealth, as he emphasizes repeatedly in his lines from series 1–would behave in such a situation: with honor. The anachronism in his behavior highlights the difficulties in allotting status to interlocutors even in estate society, where these things are supposed to be clear. The position of Guy as a landless character, and thus not honorable for the purposes of this narrative, underlines this reading, of course, as do his painful struggles–over and over in this series–to establish his status by any means. He cannot establish his honorability via ethics because he lacks the social and material basis to stand behind the ethics that he can only rehearse, never achieve. And as a meritocrat I no doubt sympathize with his struggles for this reason: at least he’s trying.

But I also found myself wondering today if all of the humiliation Guy undergoes, apparently willingly, at the hands of the sheriff, doesn’t put him in some kind of insidious gender trouble that I don’t quite realize at this point. I think the extent of this is not clear in series 1, where the gender categories are rarely complicated except perhaps by Marian’s anachronistic clothing and her regular donning of the drag of a masked bandit. The homoeroticism of the piece–functioning in a highly homoerotic canon–seems confined mostly to the outlaws in the forest–and even they end up with a woman in drag to balance them out. But the political position of the character at the side of the sheriff and his regular submission make me wonder if my sympathy to Guy does not result from my humiliation. Like medieval women, he can only triumph by surrendering. As an interpreters who submits, myself, I sympathize with Guy’s remarkable range of submissive gestures and think that in redeeming him in my fantasies, I can redress my own submission.

~ by Servetus on March 10, 2010.

10 Responses to “Guy’s insecurities”

  1. Oh,this is good. I may actually have to think whether or not I identify with Guy, or rather how much I identify with him. LOL!

    And you’re dead on about the nature of RA’s screencaps. I noticed his ability to convey a great range of emotions and tacit messages from first watching North and South. But it wasn’t until I screencapped some Robin Hood episodes that I realized how much detail I may have missed. The second episode of Series 1 where he’s speaking to Marian on the castle steps while some men and a pack of dogs are assembling to hunt down Robin Hood is the first one where I noticed what I had missed, and of course this is just one instance in many where I had the pleasure of capturing the detail I missed the first time ’round. “Quite a detailed actor” indeed! His ability to do this has made me such a rabid fan of his and certainly why the character of Guy is so interesting.

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Bzirk. It’s really rewarding to watch N&S in 1/2 time. Of course it also takes 8 hours. LOL! I want to take up this theme again when I figure out how to screen cap. Right now I am reduced to looking for others’ screencaps that display my points.

    I also have more to say about Guy’s masculine vs. feminine traits, but I think it’s clear that I identify with him. Which is weird. I also haven’t been able to say much about Lucas North yet for the same reason–hits too close to home. Whereas I have little emotional identification with Mr. Thornton. I think he’s amazing, and the acting impresses more and more on each watching, and Armitage is gorgeous, and none of those things hurts, but I don’t feel bad for him when Margaret turns him down at the end of episode 2, whereas I felt sad for several hours after Elizaveta rejected Lucas after he kissed her in Spooks 7.4.

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  3. Oh, there are some screen cap mother lodes if you’re interested.

    But if you want to make your own, videolan is easy to use. Not the greatest quality caps but okay.

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  4. Don’t have time for a detailed comment right now but just wanted to say, thank you for a fascinating analysis!

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  5. […] microexpressions, Guy’s insecurities Earlier I mentioned that I found the range of expressions for humiliation that Mr. Armitage found for Guy […]

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  6. Thanks, LadyKate63! As you’ll see I’ve returned to it again. Can’t seem to leave it alone at the moment.

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  7. […] talked about the problem of Guy’s status and his regular humiliations a little before in relationship to why it is women may find him sympathetic– how Guy is the most medieval of […]

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  8. […] a number of posts on Armitage’s processing of status issues in the role of Guy of Gisborne beginning here (and then follow the pingbacks to other posts on the […]

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  9. […] in large part, to the Guy of Gisborne tagged posts on Me+Richard, which highlights particular story-lines and the use of Richard’s microexpressions to dig deeper into Guy’s […]

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  10. […] discussing Guy of Gisborne, to what I’ve called Guy’s “gender trouble.” The first time I said it, no one noticed, and the second time, two very astute readers said, “What do you […]

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